Wendy C. Fries
Brunilda Nazario, MD
The earth is flat, eggs are bad for you, and arthritis is a natural part of aging. Each of these once long-held beliefs are myths of course, but repeat one often enough and just about any myth can start to sound like fact.
With more than 100 types of arthritis, it's easy to see how a little misinformation cropped up over the years. But you don't have to rely on hearsay. Get the facts about the most common arthritis fictions, and learn what you can do to keep your joints happy and healthy for years to come.
Myth. The idea that getting older means living with joint pain is probably one of the most persistent arthritis myths out there.
Yet arthritis isn't a natural part of aging, and older people aren't the only ones who get arthritis. As a matter of fact, more than half of the 46 million people living with arthritis in the United States are under 65, says Patience H. White, MD, MA, vice president of public health for the Arthritis Foundation. Even children get arthritis.
It is true that your chances of getting osteoarthritis -- the most common form of arthritis, affecting 27 million Americans -- increase with age. One reason is simply that older joints have had more wear and tear. Although there's nothing we can do about growing older, there is a lot we can do about the other OA risk factors.
Myth. For some, arthritis is in the genes; if one of your parents has osteoarthritis -- particularly in the hands -- chances are good you will, too.
For the rest of us, the most common causes of OA can point us toward a path of prevention:
Myth. The idea that you can't exercise or be active once you've got OA is another arthritis myth that's overstayed its welcome.
You should be physically active, when you have arthritis, White tells WebMD. Not only will appropriate activities decrease your OA pain, they can improve range of motion, function, and reduce disability. A bonus: Regular activity helps you achieve, and then maintain, a healthy weight.
The key to getting all of these exercise benefits -- and protecting your joints -- is to keep activities low impact. So skip the joint-pounding pain of a marathon, and opt instead for biking, walking, and aquatic activities, White suggests. And remember to first consult your doctor before starting any arthritis fitness program.
Fact. For every pound you gain, you add 2-3 pounds of pressure across your knees, White says. So even a small weight loss can produce drastic changes, reducing osteoarthritis symptoms and pain.
"If people just lost a little weight -- just 5 or 10 pounds -- it'll make a big difference to the progression of the disease," says White.
Myth. Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States, affecting about one in every three U.S. adults -- and their families.
The economic burden is also large, with estimated costs of over $127 billion dollars a year -- $47 billion in lost wages, and $80 billion in medical care.
Fortunately you can make sure you're not an arthritis statistic. You can start today by eating right, exercising, and taking care of your body.
"People sort of accept arthritis," says White. "We should make it unacceptable…it doesn't need to be."
SOURCES:Patience H. White, MD, MA, Arthritis Foundation, vice president for public health; professor, medicine and pediatrics, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.University of Maryland Medical Center: "Osteoarthritis - Risk Factors."Arthritis Foundation: "Osteoarthritis Basics: What Causes OA?" "Understanding Arthritis: Eradicating Myths."Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Arthritis-Related Statistics," "Arthritis FAQ."
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